The editor of social political website The Online Citizen (TOC), together with the author of an article published on the website, were charged with criminal defamation in the State Courts on Thursday (13 December).
Xu Yuan Chen, better known as Terry Xu, 36 and Daniel Augustin De Costa, 35, were each charged with one count of criminal defamation, in relation to an article allegedly written by De Costa and published on TOC, which Xu is the executive editor.
De Costa is further charged with one count of unauthorised access to computer material, a breach under the Computer Misuse Act, for accessing an email account without authorisation.
District Judge Adam Nakhoda has set the next hearing for a pre-trial conference on 8 January. Both men are out on bail ($5,000 for Xu, $10,000 for De Costa). Xu was represented by lawyer Priscilla Chia, while Eugene Thuraisingam represented De Costa.
Publication allegedly ‘defamed Cabinet of Singapore’
Xu’s charge sheet states that he defamed the Cabinet of Singapore by publishing “an imputation” about them in the article, which stated that there was “corruption at the highest echelons”.
De Costa had allegedly sent the article, titled “The Take Away from Seah Kian Ping’s Facebook Post”, to TOC under the pseudonym “Willy Sum”, using an email account which he had accessed without authorisation from the account owner.
Published on 4 September, the article was a response to comments made by Marine Parade GRC Member of Parliament Seah Kian Peng on the meeting between Singaporean activists and Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in August. The article – in which Seah’s name was misspelt – has since been taken down.
The Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) subsequently lodged a police report on 5 October stating that the article alleged corruption against some persons.
The police said that it consulted the Attorney-General’s Chambers and began investigations. Officers also applied to the Courts for search warrants.
Search of Xu’s and De Costa’s houses
On 20 November, officers conducted a search of the Xu’s house. Investigations found that De Costa had sent the article to TOC from an Internet cafe in Chinatown using a Yahoo email account belonging to one Sim Wee Lee, without the owner’s consent.
Xu allegedly published the article on the website without verifying the identity of the author.
After De Costa’s involvement was uncovered, the police applied for a search warrant against him on the same day. Officers arrived at his house at 2.50pm as De Costa was about to leave for a flight.
If convicted of criminal defamation, each man can be jailed of up to two years, or with a fine, or both.
If De Costa is convicted of unauthorised access to computer material, he can be fined a maximum $5,000 and/or jailed up to two years.